LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas non-profit is giving incarcerated parents a second chance at connecting with their children, through reading them a book.
It’s called The Storybook Project. Volunteers with the organization travel to different men’s and women’s prisons in Arkansas with children’s books. The inmates are able to record themselves saying a message and reading the book to their child. Then the Storybook volunteers send the book and recording to the child.
“I think that reading to your children is one of the most basic parental functions that there is but it’s just denied to so many people,” said Denise Chai, Director of Outreach.
From cover to cover, the outreach program is allowing parents to build a connection with their kids.
Denise Chai helped expand the programs from Cherokee Village to more prisons and jails in Central Arkansas. Now inmates in Newport, Wrightsville and the Pulaski County Jail are able to participate.
A few times each year, volunteers grab their recorders and children’s books then head to the prisons. Any inmates that want to participate are able to.
“Prisons were just not made for children so often children have very little opportunity to visit their parents so this is a way for those families to stay connected,” said Chai.
“Just because we are in prison, locked away doesn’t mean that we don’t think about them,” said Hopie Hinojosa, Hawkins Unit Inmate.
Since the beginning of the prison outreach program, nearly 8,000 inmates have recorded stories, reaching nearly 13,000 kids.
So far this year at the Hawkins unit, 376 inmates have recorded books for 576 children.
Hopie Hinojosa participates in the program and reads to her three kids.
“Today I chose Tangled because it’s about a beautiful girl and she’s a princess and my daughter is my princess,” said Hinojosa.
“For the children too, just having a permanent piece of mom or dad, telling them that they love them, they miss them and their thinking about them, can bring so much joy, comfort and encouragement,” said Chai.
Chai said a majority of the book recipients are kids but that’s not always the case.
“I’ve had a dad read a baby book to his 17-year-old daughter because he wasn’t there when she was born, ” said Chai, “we’ve had people read to their grandparents, their 90-something-year-old grandparents who have dementia but who would love to just hear their voice again. “
The Storybook organization said studies show, inmates who remain connected with their families have a better chance of a happy ending and staying out of prison after returning to society.
The prison outreach program is run off donations and volunteers. To learn more about the Storybook Project, click here.